Look, I don't want to frame this as a "baseball vs. affordable housing" debate. Every major city in the country faces critical issues that require money to alleviate, but sports remain a vital part of their identities.
I know he has discussed this issue a couple times, but I’d like to ask John Stanton a couple more questions. I’d like the Mariners chairman to make a thorough case as to why the public should give his team money.
I’m not saying there isn’t a case to be made. There may well be. But in this town, there are plenty of folks who need convincing.
On Monday, the King County Council held a meeting to discuss a plan to give $180 million worth of public funds toward Safeco Field upkeep. This came two months after the Mariners and the Public Facilities District agreed in terms for a potential 25-year extension on the stadium lease, which expires at the end of this year.
What critics such as council member Dave Upthegrove don’t like is that the $180 million represents a percentage of the hotel and motel tax, which, in the midst of Seattle’s homeless crisis, could also go toward more affordable housing. So why should public capital go toward a stadium when, for an extra $7 million a year or so, the uber-rich Stanton and crew can foot the bill themselves?
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I don’t ask that with the indignation of some of the attendees holding “homes over home runs” signs at the council meeting Monday. Public money going toward professional sports teams — regardless of the owners’ wealth — is far from novel.
Mariners executive Fred Rivera made that point when asked about precedent Monday, saying “this is absolutely the norm.” He added that the Mariners are putting up more than $600 million toward long-term facility upgrades themselves, and that the $180 million is less than taxpayers in other MLB counties have been willing to spend.
But King isn’t just another MLB county. Ask the people at the Oak View Group.
Seattleites bucked at the idea of allocating public funds toward the renovation of KeyArena. The result was OVG CEO Tim Leiweke privately financing the entire project.
And this happened as Seattle was hoping to lure an NHL and NBA team to the city. The Mariners? They aren’t going anywhere.
Yes, the 25-year lease extension might be contingent on this $180 million, but Rivera has indicated the Mariners would sign a five-year lease and restart negotiations if the council denies them the dough. And though that might delay what the M’s consider necessary updates now, it wouldn’t put Seattle in jeopardy of losing its baseball team.
Besides — some might say the taxpayers have already made their contribution. The public put up more than $350 million of the $517 million used to build Safeco Field in the first place, and since that time, the Mariners’ valuation has ballooned to about $1.5 billion. Not a small pile for Stanton and his consortium to be sitting on.
The Mariners had to know the King County subsidy wouldn’t go over well with the public. There was no mention of it in the press release announcing plans to renew the lease, and given the optics, who can blame them? They had to know it would stir up emotions. They had to know it would lure a mob downtown.
Look, I don’t want to frame this as a “baseball vs. affordable housing” debate. Every major city in the country faces critical issues that require money to alleviate, but sports remain a vital part of their identities.
Still, while you can argue that $180 million might not go far in solving the homeless crisis here, you can also argue that a man who was worth over $1 billion before he was the chairman of the Mariners can rally his ownership group to provide that extra cash.
But I’d like to give Stanton the chance to argue back. I’d genuinely like to hear why he thinks that $180 million is necessary and/or deserved.
A lot of people like to oversimplify matters such as these, but rarely are they all that simple. If this one were, the council wouldn’t have been divided as it appeared Monday.
The next meeting on this issue is Aug. 29, followed by a vote fairly soon after. Should it go the Mariners’ way?
Ownership has a chance to make a case. But man … it better be a good one.